As the Coalition and Labor charge into the election battle on the trusty steeds of housing affordability, education and working families, Crikey runs an eye over the form of some of the also-rans — controversies from the last three years which have failed to gain traction during this election campaign.

David Hicks, remember him? How about AWB — c’mon, it wasn’t that long ago? Cornelia Rau? The media has been mostly quiet on these issues too, perhaps distracted by the dusty debris of thundering hooves.

AWB

State of affairs, December 22, 2006: AWB no longer holds a monopoly on Australian wheat exports but is still its biggest exporter.

What the Coalition last said about the issue 18 October, 2007: Foreign Affairs minister Alexander Downer said the Liberal party was, “… horrified and therefore set up a Royal Commission to get to the bottom of it.”

What the ALP last said about the issue 11 September, 2007: In September, Primary Industries, Fisheries and Forestry shadow minister Kerry O’Brien called on the Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran to instruct the Export Wheat Commission to investigate AWB’s proposed operation of the 2007-08 National Pool.

David Hicks

State of affairs at the moment: Mr Hicks is finishing the rest of his sentence in Adelaide’s Yatala Prison. He cannot speak to the media until March 2008. His affidavit with the Adjutant General says he was beaten while he was held in Guantanamo Bay. Allegations of direct political interference in his trial have also been made by people including chief prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis.

Coalition, 24 October, 2007: Foreign minister Alexander Downer said the allegations of political interference were “nonsense” and the government only tried to speed up getting Hicks to trial. On the issue of putting control orders on Hicks, Mr Downer said “… as far as the control orders are concerned, that is something that is at arms length from the Government. The Federal Police will make a judgement as to whether they want control orders.”

ALP, 23 October, 2007: Labor leader Kevin Rudd said, in an echo of Mr Downer’s view, “When it comes to Mr Hicks’ release if we were the Government of Australia at the time… we would act entirely on the advice of the Australian Federal Police based on the security needs of the Australian nation and the Australian people.”

Iraq

State of affairs November 2, 2007: According to Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt “There is a reason Iraq has almost disappeared as an election issue … Iraq has been won … Just 27 American soldiers were killed in action in Iraq in October – the lowest monthly figure since March last year … Violence is falling fast … And the country’s institutions are getting stronger. The Iraqi army is now at full strength, at least in numbers.”

Coalition, November 7, 2007: Minister for Defence, Brendan Nelson, releases a statement which says former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is wrong to suggest the role played by Australian troops in Iraq is “symbolic” and “political”. “Australian troops are doing a very important job in Iraq, performing the valuable overwatch role in Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces, helping to train over 16,500 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, and delivering civil engineering projects to help local communities,” the release says.

ALP, November 12, 2007: Mr Rudd reaffirms his party’s commitment to remove Australia’s combat forces from Iraq by the middle of next year if Labor is elected. He also says the party supports Australian troops helping with out of country training of the Iraqi police service and other security services.

Water

State of affairs October 29, 2007: Australia is experiencing the worst drought in a century and a water crisis. Our major cities are on water restrictions, as storage levels fall to 50% capacity. Some levels are dipping to 20%.

Coalition, October 22, 2007: The PM says a reelected Liberals and Nationals team will work with the states and territories to focus on urban water reform, especially on the issue of reinvesting state water utility profits in infrastructure.

ALP, October 28, 2007: A $1 billion incentive fund for investment in water recycling and desalination projects across the country. It will also support water recycling and major stormwater capturing projects nationwide. It will fund a 10% Water Tax Credit and grants for approved desalination, water recycling and major storm water capture projects.

  • $20 million to establish a National Centre of Excellence in Water Desalination in Brisbane to help secure Australia’s drinking water supply. They will also construct a Centre of Excellence in Desalination in Perth.
  • Schools will be able to apply a grant worth up to $30,000 so they can install solar hot water systems, rainwater tanks, passive solar innovations such as sky lights, shade awnings, lighting upgrades or other energy efficiency measures and extended solar power systems.

Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez Solon

State of affairs November 12, 2007: The mentally ill Australian resident Cornelia Rau was held in an immigration detention centre when officials could not establish her identity and thought she was in the country illegally. Another Australian citizen, Vivian Alvarez Solon, was deported in a similar case. A review of detainees’ cases, prompted by these previous errors, has found refugee Tony Tran was mistakenly detained for five years in custody until 2005. Ms Alvarez Solon received a multimillion-dollar settlement. Ms Rau settled out of court.

Coalition October 31, 2007: There has been no major word from the government on the issue lately. But after the cases came to light, the Coalition implemented changes within the Immigration Department, including more mental health services in detention centres and improved staff training.

ALP April 9, 2007: Kevin Rudd said, “I hope very much that Cornelia Rau is treated properly and that she gets a proper settlement from the Australian Government. I’ll leave it at that because it is still before the courts.” The lawyer who acted for Ms Rau and Ms Alvarez Solon, George Newhouse, is contesting Environment minister Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth in the election for Labor.

RU486

State of affairs August 29, 2007: Some hospitals are allowed to use RU486 when a woman’s life is in danger, or she is carrying a baby with severe abnormalities, The Age reports.

Coalition February 16, 2006: A search for “RU486” on the Liberal party’s website brings up nothing. The government has not made any major comment on the issue since a parliamentary vote gave control of the drug to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, instead of Health Minister Tony Abbott.

ALP July 5, 2006: The last mention of the abortion pill on the Opposition’s website is from 2006, when Kim Beazley was still the party’s leader. His position was to leave control of the drug “to the experts.”

Cuts to the Medicare safety net

State of affairs October 29, 2007:
The Coalition broke a 2004 election promise and made cuts to the Medicare safety net, saying health spending needed to be reined in. The Age said: One effect of the Medicare safety net has been to allow medical specialists to raise their fees even further above the schedule fee, safe in the knowledge that chronic users of their services are protected against excessive cost, irrespective of their ability to pay. The Howard Government gave up the only means of keeping a lid on specialists’ fees.”

Coalition 4 November, 2007: Say they have strengthened the net and Labor will abolish it if they are elected.

ALP 22 October, 2007: The Opposition say they will keep the safety net and set up $220 million “GP Super Clinics” in rural and regional areas where there is a lack of access to Medicare funded health benefits.

November 12, 2007: On ABC’s Radio National, human rights advocate and lawyer Julian Burnside listed other potential election issues which have not received much attention, including: the anti-terror laws, Mamdouh Habib’s imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, Dr Mohamed Haneef’s detention and visa troubles and the treatment of refugees.

Peter Fray

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